Practical guide for introverts to survive “Greeting your Neighbor” at church

For my bible belt friends… all in good fun. 

“Now turn and greet your neighbor!”

My heart briefly sinks every time I hear that before it returns to the rapid beating of anxiety. My palms go sweaty and I nervously look around in fear- wondering which awkward encounter to have first.

I understand that the “greeting your neighbor” time is suppose to be about fellowshipping with other believers but for me, even a trained and learned introvert, it’s an unpredictable catastrophe of awkward… and germs. 

Oh you extraverts snort and chortle in laughter, taking for granted your ability to be calm and whitty at a moment’s notice, to be able to remember your name with the snap of a finger… In fact, you are probably the ones who INVENTED this insanity under the cloaked guise of “making people feel included” or “wecoming new people who are visiting” but HAH! I’m on to you… purpurtraters of … of… phrases like “inserting the foot in the mouth”. You have kept me up many a night with my terrible performance on repeat in my head as I lament into my pillow and think of millions of things I could have said or should have done differently.

I decided, therefore, to confront my biggest church fear (other than being called out to come on stage for an inpromptu solo with the worship band) and logically plan this out so I’m prepared for all awkward encounters I’m sure to have in years to come. Preparation is key- perhaps even some role playing would be a good idea so the words come easily and seem natural in the moment.

Here are the top solutions I have come up with:

1. Problem: The “opps, I sneezed on my hand a few moments ago and now I’m suppose to shake hands with people”

Solution: Depends. I’ve forgotten and shook hands with people before mid-handshake I remember.  (The bonus awkward moment is when you wonder to yourself, “did they SEE me sneeze? Do they know?”) The thing to do is keep calm and NOT just let go in a panic and then stumble with your words, trying to explain your sudden jerking of your hand away. They will think you are insane and then quickly turn to another person while you are still talking-  making you feel super awkward still standing there… Continue on while smiling and say a prayer for their health once you let go. …which ummmm… is also what you do when you go ahead and shake someone’s hand knowing that your germs are on it. Because, you can rationalize, who knows what is on THEIR hands- probably fecal matter or something much grosser. The final option here is the honest, but sure to be awkward, approach. Just ‘fess up. “I’d shake your hand but I just sneezed on it ” is very appreciated although they will probably look at you like you have 2 heads and say really quick with a plastered smile, “OH- OK!” and then turn to someone else. Personally, I’ve done all three options and I’ve learned to cover my mouth when I sneeze with my LEFT hand.

Extra Tip? Keep antiobiotic gel near by. Regardless.

2. Problem: “Where to turn to greet your neighbor

Solution: at first I was going to say, to your right, because that is the esteemed place of honor in the bible. But, pracitically speaking that won’t always work because if your neighbor also did that, everyone would be looking to the right and no one would be getting greeted. I’m a huge fan of the freeze-in-place-and-look-out-of-the-corner-of-your-eye-to-see-who-makes-the-first-move approach. That’s right, let the extraverts move first then copy what ever it is that they do.  Another great solution is let your spouse handle it- see who THEY talk to then follow suit.

Extra Tip? Don’t extend your hand until you have eye contact.

3. Problem: Your Spouse turned one way and you turned the other

Solution: have a previously discussed plan of action. Many times I followed my own advice on the previous rule- the “first move” solution and it worked for ME perfectly. Unfortunalty my sometimes non-observant husband will turn away from me even if I’ve already started an interaction and then it gets weird. This happened to me last Sunday. I waited until someone was looking at me, and I smiled and extended my hand and introduced myself. The person I happened to be talking to was a young man so I instantly went to introduce Ben, which I started to then realized he was having a pleasant… and seeming heart-to-heart with another person. The young man and I awkwardly smiled and I noticed he was in the same predicament. His attractive girlfriend was talking to someone else and eventually we just shuffled away from each other. Not ideal at all. Planning ahead of time is helpful but sometimes these type of situations can’t be avoided.

4. Problem: “Everyone is taking to someone else around me… except no one is talking to ME”

Solution: We have all been there. (Unless you are an extravert who can seamlessly weave yourself into any and every conversation DANGYOU) I’m a huge fan of letting everyone around me talk- A lot of times I keep my phone in my left hand so if no one talks to me I can check the time or look up a bible verse on my YouVision app about how important community and the gathering together of believers is because I’d rather just be at home watching people have awkward conversational exchanges on a televised sermon. The other solution is to just stare at the people not including you until they notice and say hi. The nice thing about that is that as soon as they include you in the conversation you have sucessfully transferred the awkwardness from yourself to THEM. Score. The burdon on conversation is mainly on them and all you have to do is try to answer a few easy questions like how you are. Another solution is if you are there with a spouse or friend, latch onto them in a supportive kind of way.

5. BONUS: Ben’s “it is awkward for me- is it awkward for them?! The awkward cycle that never ends…”

Solution: Unless you are an extravert, scoring a lunch date with the cool, new couple probably isn’t going to come from this time. Keep it short and simple. The more you deviate away from “Hi, how are you?” and “My name is (fill in the blank)” the more likely it’s going to be uncomfortable for everyone. The thing is with awkward is most everyone feels that way during the meet ‘n’ greet time- the more you think about it the more you will exude and sweat it out from every. single. pore. Don’t think, “is this as awkward for them as it is for me?” while shaking their hand because it becomes obvious somehow and then you know that they know you feel awkward, and then you know that they know and… you get the picture.

My last tip is one Ben and I have done (accidentally) for years: Just be late. Miss it. JUST KIDDING!

As we have grown, our final tactic is just smile and embrace the awkward. :)


If you found this helpful, check out my Guide to becoming a Gather Vocal Band Member Person

  • Stacia

    Oh, I am SO with you on this! How sad that such a “nice” time among the fellowship of believers can be so awkward for so many (me!). I do the “smile and nod” thing sometimes and also the “look busy with doing something with the kids” thing sometimes to make it less awkward — it’s helpful to have the kids around for that. :o)

  • Sarea Clark

    This literally had me CRACKING UP! Today while sitting on the floor during church (I’m THAT person), I was thinking how nice it was that we don’t do that ‘greet your neighbor’ stuff! LOL Great tips!

  • Harmony

    Lol this was awesome!! And Sarea you are an extrovert so whatever.
    You can’t simpithize with us!! Lol

  • Katie Axelson

    I’m so glad to know I’m not the only one who thinks this way!

  • AymieJoi

    Introvert + Single = Awkward x 1,000

    I’ll never understand why talking to people before and after the service is not sufficient. Do we really need to interrupt the festivities, just as I’m getting into a worshipful, properly-focused place, to talk to people again who I wasn’t all that keen on talking to 20 minutes ago because it was just as awkward then? My heart rate doesn’t return to normal until somewhere around the middle of the message, at which point, I’ve missed most of it anyway because I’m too traumatized by the awkwardness of “greeting my neighbor”. This is why I, too, would much rather sit at home and watch a service streaming from somewhere else in the country.

  • TheBusyNothings

    When I had my kids with me in church I LOVED it! LOL- I would do the same thing with them. I don’t usually take them to church now because they are … very energetic, lol but I really, really miss them being with us sometime!

  • TheBusyNothings

    Yeah… I kinda got to go with Harm on this- you ARE THE EXTROVERT!!!

  • TheBusyNothings

    ;)) LOVE YOU!

  • TheBusyNothings

    It was very theraputic for me to write all this down- I don’t think that I actually knew I felt this way until I was writing!

  • TheBusyNothings

    :) Thanks Harmony!

  • TheBusyNothings

    Aymie- I can only imagine the intensity of the single awkward! I think it’s awesome that you have actually gone to church by yourself- I’m too insecure and always wanted to be sure to have people to sit with. I also agree- why is it necessary? I think talking to people before and after church is enough… 😉 Thanks for commenting!!!

  • AymieJoi

    I wonder if maybe it’s a hold out from the Catholic/Anglican element of “Passing the Peace”. It’s a lovely idea, but still… : )

  • Sarea Clark

    I love you guys too….but can I at least get points for being single??

  • Adrienne G.

    Bart and I are VERY much the introverted couple! So much so that Bart will prolong checking Ladybug into the nursery so that maybe we’ll miss the meet and greet. We’re so introverted that we joined our church five years ago, but were only brave enough to start going to Sunday School until this past year when everyone started thinking of us as “Ladybug’s Mom and Dad,” because apparently our child is not as introverted as we are… yet. I can tell you right now that Bart is rather happy that we have nursery duty next Sunday so we won’t have to shake anyone’s hand.

  • Heidi

    LOL glad to know I’m not alone! it’s seriously stressful isn’t it!